Bryce Elder looked really good in the first two innings. Four strikeouts and no hard contact gave Braves’ fans hope the guy from the first half of the season had re-appeared just when they needed him most.
Then the third inning happened.
After his offense spotted him a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, Elder started the bottom half by giving up a solo home run to Nick Castellanos. It was the third straight homer for Castellanos against Elder, dating back to their September matchup, and the game was tied 1-1. Then the next hitter, Brandon Marsh, roped a single to right. There should’ve been alarm bells going off throughout the Braves’ dugout, especially given Elder’s rough second half and the top of the Phillies’ lineup looming. Two batters later, Trea Turner singled, and now with 2 on and 2 out, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate with a chance to bust the game open.
Everyone assumed there's no way Elder pitches to Harper in this spot and the Braves manager would be making his way to the mound any moment to make a change. Or at least the pitching coach would be on his way to the mound to give the guy warming up a few more pitches before entering. But there was no one warming in the pen. No help was coming. Brian Snitker was comfortable letting Elder face Harper in the biggest moment of the season.
He shouldn't have been.
Harper launched a middle-middle, hanging slider 408 feet to right field and a 1-1 game was now a 4-1 game. Maybe a series defining decision from the Braves dugout.
Unbelievably, Elder was allowed to face two more hitters, both who singled, before being pulled from the game for Michael Tonkin. Tonkin immediately allowed a 2-run double and all 6 runs charged to Elder had come around to score. It was 6-1 and that was game.
Normally during the season, a 5-run deficit wasn’t an automatic loss, as the Braves featured the best offense in baseball. It’s been anything but that in October. Atlanta managed just 1 run the rest of the game, a 2-out RBI single from Orlando Arcia, but that didn’t even keep pace with the tack-on runs Philadelphia added in the 5th, 6th and 8th innings. A solo shot from Harper, his second of the game, a solo shot from Trea Turner, a solo shot from Castellanos, his second of the game, and one more solo homer from Brandon Marsh to make it 10-2, and the Phillies closed out a non-completive game. At least not competitive after the third inning.
For the Braves, their season is on the brink. Their historically great offense has been a shell of itself in this series, while the Phillies pitching has dominated most of it, aside from one 3-inning stretch late in Game 2. With the injuries to Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright, the questions everyone asked about who would start Game 3 turned out to be valid concerns. The pitching held up for two innings. Unfortunately, it’s a 9-inning game and the Braves weren’t fast enough getting a questionable starter out of the game before all hell broke loose.
The Braves now face elimination for the next two games. One tomorrow in Philadelphia, and one Friday in Atlanta, if they win the first one that is. The one tiny sliver of hope if you’re a Braves fan is Spencer Strider and Max Fried are starting those games. They have a chance. But they're going to have exercise some demons in Citizens Bank Park first, and one way they could at least elevate the demons heart-rate is if the record-setting offense that dominated baseball all year could show up. It hasn’t so far. Strider pitched well enough in Game 1 to get a win. But the offense no-showed and it ended in a 3-0 loss.
There’s no more room for error. No more room for slow starts, or non-competitive at bats, or slow bullpen decisions Unless another 100+ win team wants their season to end to the exact same opponent, in the exact same ballpark, playing almost the exact same series, they need to completely re-write the script for Games 4 and 5. Because the script they've played to so far ends with the Braves having the rest of October off.